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La coexistence confessionelle à l’épreuve : Études sur les relations entre protestants et catholiques dans la France moderne, Études réunies par Didier Boisson et Yves Krumenacker, Chrétiens et Sociétés, Documents et Mémoires, n° 9, Édité par l’équipe Religions, Sociétés et Acculturation du Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes, 2009, 261 p.

Keith P. Luria

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1This group of essays is an excellent presentation of current thinking on the question of religious coexistence in France between the sixteenth century and the Revolution. In much recent historical literature, coexistence appears as a corrective to older views of conflict-ridden confessional relations. People of rival faiths seem more tolerant of each other than the older historiography recognized. But in this volume, as Myriam Yardeni puts it in the Introduction, coexistence is not understood simply as an aspect of the history of tolerance. Huguenots and Catholics did not progress in a straight line toward an increasingly tolerant society. Instead as Yves Krumenacker makes clear in his contribution, « La coexistence confessionelle aux XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles, Quelques problèmes de méthodes », daily relations were not always peaceful but could oscillate between cordiality and hostility. The challenge for historians is to « penser ensemble ces réalités antagonistes » (107). As Olivier Christin points out in concluding the volume, coexistence often emerged out of conflict not tolerance. It took many, locally specific forms, which Protestants and Catholics negotiated. It could be strong or weak depending on circumstances. And it was practical, which is to say, it grew out of the daily interactions and interests of the competing confessional groups.

2The state could contribute to coexistence when it promoted peace, as is evident in Denis Crouzet’s essay, « Catherine de Médicis actrice d’une mutation dans l’imaginaire politique (1578-1579) », which describes the queen’s efforts to stabilize the country after the edict of Poitiers. Her letters indicate a strategy of self-presentation that called upon notions of female honor and maternal imagery, and she alternately deployed discourses of patience or anger to coax her often unwilling interlocutors into negotiating. Above all, she took the kingdom’s suffering on herself in an effort to present herself as a mediator.

3Most of the remaining essays explore the local construction of coexistence. Pierre-Jean Souriac, in « Une solution armée de coexistence, Les places de sûrété protestantes comme élément de pacification des guerres de religion », shows how the fortified towns peace treaties allowed Huguenots to maintain – which have often been seen as a source of continuing conflict – can be understood as fostering coexistence. They were not the product of reconciliation, but they offered Protestants refuge. Yet as Souriac demonstrates with the example of Castres, there was another way to coexistence. The Protestant consuls and Catholic citizens of Castres brokered an “act of union” by which they avoided military entanglement and maintained peace under the Edict of Nantes. Ultimately such agreements were more effective than the protection Huguenot military garrisons provided.

4In « La coexistence d’après les registres des consistoires méridionaux », Philippe Chareyre examines the consistory records of Nîmes for evidence of local confessional boundary-crossing. He finds a « système communautariste » (76) installed in the city, which promoted religious competition. And yet, the consistory heard numerous cases of mixed marriages and Huguenot frequentation of Catholic ceremonies. Such practices helped facilitate « une coexistence amicale au sein de la ville » (82). In « La coexistence confessionelle à Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines au XVIIe siècle », Michelle Magdeleine examines a more confessionally complex situation, but the conclusion is much the same. In this town between Lorraine and Alsace, Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, and Anabaptists had to live together. Here too, mixed marriages and the participation in other groups’ ceremonies suggest a good deal of flexibility, as does the aid neighbors of rival faiths offered each other during the Thirty Years War. But the impact of outside authority is also clear. Local seigneurs were willing to accept members of religious minorities, but when the area came under French control, the local balance shifted in favor of Catholics.

5In a study of notarial records, « Les relations entre protestants et catholiques dans le marché du crédit parisien au XVIIe siècle », Christian Aubrée shows the extent of and constraints on coexistence. The capital’s Huguenots had a marked preference for using the notarial services and seeking loans from their co-religionists. But they did so more as a result of family networks and the social contacts nourished at Charenton than out of any strong feelings against Catholics. Indeed, they also did business with Catholics, as they had to; fellow Huguenots hardly had the resources to satisfy all the credit needs of the Protestant community. Hence there was much confessional boundary crossing in the loaning of money. However, when it came to protecting family secrets, the Huguenots were a much more closed group and made use of Huguenot notaries to a much greater degree. The openness to the Catholic community had its limits, and, in this way, the Protestant group protected itself. Edwin Bezzina makes much the same point in « La mort, l’au-delà et les relations confessionelles: Les testaments et leurs testateurs dans la ville de Loudun, 1598-1685 ». Interconfessional relations were evident in the daily lives of Loudun’s Catholics and Protestants, but in certain matters there was little crossing of the boundary. Mixed marriages were infrequent, and testators rarely chose executors of the other religion. Once again family matters were kept within the confessional community.

6Two essays on the eighteenth century show the persistence of coexistence but also its fragility in moments of serious conflict. Chrystel Bernat’s « De l’alliance improbable à l’union interdite : coexistence et porosité des frontières confessionnelles entre catholiques et protestants en guerre, Languedoc vers 1685-vers 1715/1730 », shows that even the violence of the Camisard revolt did not prevent continuing relations between old Catholics and nouveaux convertis, who aided each other, connived together against royal forces, and sometimes even fought together. But as Bernat makes clear, these unexpected examples of cooperation « ne doit masquer la réalité d’une coexistence somme toute marginale et généralement précaire » (184). Coexistence could survive even under oppression, and the enigma is how it did so in villages where zealous Catholics lived with nouveaux convertis suspected of siding with the rebels. The answer in part is that coexistence was never a singular phenomenon but varied and fluctuated according to local circumstances and the interests of people often divided even within their own confessional communities. Valérie Sottocasa’s « Protestants et catholiques en Languedoc. Fragilités d’une coexistence confessionelle à la fin du XVIIIe siècle » retakes up this region’s history of coexistence during the Revolution. The memory of the Languedoc’s violent confessional confrontations was revived and politicized during the Revolution. Confessional conflict seemed anachronistic in the age of the « rights of man », but Catholic counter-revolutionaries promoted the idea that the Revolution was merely the revenge of the Protestants and thereby fed a spiral of violence. Certain mixed communities managed to avoid conflict and Enlightenment ideas on toleration inspired some of the local elite. But under the pressure of revolutionary change, coexistence proved very fragile.

7In the Conclusion, Olivier Christin returns to the volume’s central themes. Coexistence was not tolerance; it was local, circumstantial, and often very fragile. But to say that coexistence was practical and local is not to say that it was divorced from larger developments and grander concepts. The state, when committed to confessional peace provided a legal framework in which members of the two faiths could cross the religious divide while pursuing familial, professional, or communal concerns. And while Protestants and Catholics did not much use words like coexistence or tolerance (which retained a negative connotation), they did rely on a rhetoric of public friendship, steeped in classical notions drawn from Cicero. One suspects also that an enduring sense of Christian charity and brotherhood also underlay their negotiations. Coexistence was always precarious but it survived.

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Keith P. Luria, « La coexistence confessionelle à l’épreuve : Études sur les relations entre protestants et catholiques dans la France moderne, Études réunies par Didier Boisson et Yves Krumenacker, Chrétiens et Sociétés, Documents et Mémoires, n° 9, Édité par l’équipe Religions, Sociétés et Acculturation du Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes, 2009, 261 p. »Chrétiens et sociétés [En ligne], 16 | 2009, mis en ligne le 17 mai 2010, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Keith P. Luria

North Carolina State University

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